To Use Legalized Gambling To Its Advantage
E arly this week the United States Supreme Court overturned a decades-long law (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA) that essentially limited sports gambling to one state. With the landmark decision, it will now be up to individual states and sports leagues to regulate sports betting as they see fit.
Professional racing has a multitude of well-documented issues — top sponsors leaving the sport in mass, the retirement of many elite and recognizable drivers, a declining and rapidly-aging fan base — that won’t be solved with the addition of gambling. But this legal decision does open the door for NASCAR to make substantial changes to improve its overall health and standing among sports fans.
Here are the four ways NASCAR can best make use of the legalization:
1. The big picture is great …
When you think ‘NASCAR’ and ‘legal gambling,’ the first thing that comes to mind is betting on who wins each race. And for good reason — NASCAR already has a fantasy sports game that allows fans to do something of the sport. Adding a monetary element there would surely increase overall viewership for NASCAR (as it would any sport), but that’s something NASCAR desperately needs.
But NASCAR’s biggest issue with fans in recent years is the pace — races that last four, five hours, sometimes longer. Simply betting on winners wouldn’t force people to watch races; it would force them to check the results after the face. Instead, NASCAR should allows fans, especially those actually in attendance at each race, to gamble throughout the contest. Take a brief intermission after each stage, for instance — Isn’t that what the stages are for, anyway? — and lets fans scramble to in-track betting booths to update their predictions. It’s a way to increase viewership and engagement throughout the race, not just at the end of it. Win-win.
2. Incorporate gambling into brand
For years, NASCAR fans have lamented the loss of NASCAR’s ‘culture.’ You know: the rough-and-tough attitudes, the grit, the Southern charm, the partying around the track, and so forth. Those same critics argue that NASCAR has gotten to be too corporate, too cookie-cutter in limiting driver personalities and the wildness of the sport at large.
Sports gambling is one step towards reversing that trend. Gambling, even in a regulated, moderate role, fits perfectly into that ‘olden days vibe NASCAR fans so strongly value. That brand isn’t recklessness, but fun and competition... and a bit of luck. NASCAR should wholly embrace sports gambling rather than backing into it, something the league is at risk of if it doesn’t prioritize making changes.
3. Be at the forefront of all the major sports leagues
Want to raise your public profile with sports fans, but also other sports leagues and executives? Do something nobody else has.
With this ruling, NASCAR has that opportunity. While gambling will be monitored and controlled on a state-tostate basis to some extent, there will be a sports league that assumes the mantle and becomes the leader in regulating and installing a sports betting system. Why not NASCAR?
Now, NASCAR has said before that gambling isn’t high on its list of priorities, especially given reports of an impending company sale and a potential shift in corporate sponsorship structure. It’s official statement Monday only reaffirmed its apparent lack of interest. If that’s the case, then that list of priorities needs to be re-evaluated. Integrating sports gambling in a fast, effective, popular manner would not only make NASCAR more appealing to general sports fans, but it would make it relevant again nationally as a major sport.
4. Incorporate and hype-up the playoff bracket, a la March Madness
Monday’s ruling plays to some sports and events better than others, but none better than the NCAA tournament every spring, otherwise known as March Madness. It’s widely popular already (as are bracket pools for payouts), easy to pick up as a fan, and dominates the sports media circuit for an entire month. Better than the World Series, the Super Bowl, or whatever else, March Madness was made for legal gambling.
Unfortunately, NASCAR has few (if any) ties to the annual tournament... but it does have a playoff bracket of its own that could — and should — be stressed when it comes to the books. Picking the field of 16 drivers at the onset of the season, then picking each round of eliminations as they present themselves is an easy and fun way for NASCAR to incorporate gambling into its playoff system. Again, fans love a good bracket, even a less conventional one like NASCAR’s. It’s up to racing executives to make the most of theirs — and of legal gambling altogether.
— Brendan Marks, Charlotte Observer
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, leads the field to green for the Monster Cup KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway Saturday. He’d be there at the end as well for his fifth Monster win of the year.
SEAN GARDNER FOR NASCAR